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Migri to forcibly return Thai teen to absentee father in messy custody case

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) is preparing to forcibly return a 14-year-old Thai girl to Thailand, despite her having a Finnish family and her biological mother living in Finland. The girl's biological father, who lives in Thailand, has not given permission for his daughter to permanently emigrate to Finland.

Harri Aaltonen
Harri Aaltonen with his stepdaughter, now 14 years old and about to be deported. Image: Harri Aaltosen kotialbumi

Police are preparing to deport a 14-year-old Thai girl back to Thailand, despite her having a Finnish family in Hämeenlinna and no stable relations in her country of origin.

The girl's mother lives in Finland with her Finnish husband, and the teenager has lived in the country for a year and a half. The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) denied the girl's residence permit application in May, and ruled that she should be deported by the end of September.

The girl's family says they are worried sick by the situation.

"The children are afraid that each time the doorbell rings it'll be the police, and my wife cries herself to sleep every night," the Thai teen's stepfather Harri Aaltonen describes the situation. "The girl's father in Thailand has told us he has no interest in rearing his daughter."

The Hämeenlinna Administrative Court has ruled three times that the girl may be deported to Thailand to await the finalisation of the Migri decision. The court is currently handling the family's complaint over the ruling.

"I can't understand why anyone would want to take a child away from her only provider," Aaltonen says. "We don't even know where exactly they intend to send her."

Complex family history, uncooperative father

In its decision, the Immigration Service appraisal states that the family life of the girl and her mother has been interrupted, as they lived apart for 10 years in total. This means that Migri does not consider the 14-year-old a member of her own mother's family, and finds no basis for granting the teenager a residence permit.

Migri further claims that the child would receive adequate care if sent back to Thailand, where her father and grandmother live; the mother would be granted visitation rights.

Stepfather Aaltonen says that the long-distance mother-daughter relationship was never a planned state of affairs.

The girl's Thai parents divorced in the early 2000s, making the mother the child's sole guardian. The mother met her new husband-to-be Aaltonen, who lived in Thailand for most of 2006. When the new couple moved to Finland together, their intention was to have the daughter follow them as soon as possible.

moottoripyöräilijä ja sivuvaunussa kaksi ihmistä
Image: Harri Aaltosen kotialbumi

"In 2008 the father agreed to this, and my wife went to fetch her daughter," Aaltonen recounts. "She had a visa and a plane ticket already, when the father suddenly changed his mind."

The mother, pregnant at the time, was unable to collect her child without the father's permission and returned to Finland alone. Subsequent trips between the two countries stretched the Aaltonen family's budget thin over the years. The mother also paid for her daughter's education from abroad.

The 14-year-old herself says she wants to stay in Finland, where she attends school actively and enjoys her family life, which includes her mother and Aaltonen in addition to a little sister and two stepbrothers.

"Every option essentially means breaking our family apart and causing distress to the children," Aaltonen says. "I'm at my wit's end myself. I feel as though I've let down the people I love."

Lawyer: Decision not unusual

The family's lawyer Ville Punto says that the situation is actually quite common, and is an example of the authorities' usual interpretation of such circumstances. Family ties are considered severed if a child and their parents live apart for a long time.

However, Punto says that children already living in Finland are seldom deported once they have settled in. The Migri decision, he says, can be questioned with good reason.

"Assessing the best interest of the child is a dead letter in Finnish law. The child's actual wellbeing is barely analysed, the decision is simply made that the child should stay in the exact circumstances of her country of origin, with a familiar language and people and so on," Punto says.

Punto adds that the mother-daughter relationship should be judged based on the actual nature of their dealings in an oral hearing. The mother's status as sole guardian also seems to play no part in the decision, which the lawyer finds peculiar.

Migri: Guardianship considered; no comment on individual cases

The Immigration Service's expert on underage affairs, Eeva-Maria Nieminen says that Migri cannot comment on specific cases, and will only speak generally about the guidelines in use.

"Some decisions are negative and some are positive," Nieminen states. "The legal guardian of any child as well as the person who cares for them in actuality are taken into consideration. How long a parent has been present in the child's life, how frequent communications have been, how often visitations are arranged, and things of that nature."

Nieminen adds that the child's ties to their country of origin have to be taken into consideration, as do their affiliations in Finland, especially if the child has stayed there for only a short time.

Process ongoing

Aaltonen and the girl's mother say they are exhausting every opportunity to secure a residence permit for the daughter.

The family has contacted the girl's biological father in Thailand, who says he is prepared to explain in writing why he is unable to care for his daughter. The girl's grandmother has also apparently moved away.

Maahanmuuttoviraston sisäänkäynti.
Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

Because the Thai father is essentially broke, the Aaltonen family have paid for his trips from the countryside to visit local authorities; three times to speak with police, twice with a notary, who says the Thai authorities cannot verify the father's explication because he is not the girl's legal guardian.

An official document would have to be ordered by Finnish decision-makers. Such a document would have to be sent to Bangkok for translation and legalization, all of which costs money. The years of contact between mother and daughter would also need to be proven beyond a doubt.

"Nobody is helping us at all, we have to find everything out on our own," Aaltonen says. "Everyone keeps saying they can't comment on individual cases. That's nothing but a cop-out."

Aaltonen says he has also considered adopting the girl. Adoption processes typically take many years.

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